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Caltech Adopts Open Access Policy for Scholarly Writing

With the beginning of the new year, California Institute of Technology (Caltech) has implemented a new open-access policy for the scholarly writing done by its faculty. As decided by the faculty, starting on January 1, 2014, all members must agree to grant nonexclusive rights to Caltech to disseminate their scholarly papers. The goal is to encourage wider distribution of their work and simplify the copyright process when posting research on faculty or institutional Web sites.

"The decision of our faculty to make their papers freely accessible online will ensure that the global community of researchers, students and casual followers of science and engineering will learn about our work at earlier stages, enabling them to put it to use for the benefit of society," explained John Dabiri, chair of the Caltech faculty and professor of aeronautics and bioengineering at the Southern California institution.

Researchers and instructors at Caltech write more than 2,000 papers each year for a multitude of journals, each of which has its own policies regarding author copyright. The initiative was put in place to prevent publishers of those journals from threatening legal action or issuing takedown notices to authors who have posted their content on their own sites or to CaltechAUTHORS, the Institute's online repository.

The new open-access policy will, said University Librarian Kimberly Douglas, put faculty "in the driver's seat, to empower them to do what makes sense for them." A similar approach has been taken by Harvard University, Duke, Princeton, the University of California, and several other research universities.

The policy was also partly motivated by a February 2013 directive from the United States Office of Science and Technology Policy requiring federal agencies to develop plans to make the final results of federally funded research freely available within a year of publication. Caltech hosts NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which runs numerous research and space mission collaborations with Caltech faculty.

Faculty may still grant exclusive rights to their publishers, but they must first request a waiver from the policy. According to Caltech, other institutions have seen waiver request rates of about one in 20 papers, typically made to comply with the rare publisher who insists on a formal waiver in order to consider manuscripts for publication.

The Institute emphasized in a statement that Caltech faculty would continue to publish in peer-reviewed academic journals and that publishers would continue to own the rights to their own formatted versions, but final manuscripts in the authors' formats would be available through Caltech.

"Ideas are most powerful when they are free to move, not held behind a screen until they are purchased from a vendor," explained Brent Fultz, a professor of materials science and applied physics and member of the faculty board. "The new open-access policy at Caltech increases the impact of our ideas by better connecting them to the information society around us."

Added Morteza Gharib, vice provost for research and professor of Aeronautics and Bioinspired Engineering, "This objective also means that we take responsibility for ensuring that people everywhere have a reasonable chance of learning about our work."

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